The results are in for our Great British Beach Clean 2021
5 minute read
Our Great British Beach Clean was back in full swing this year, with thousands of volunteers heading outside to clear litter from their local streets, parks and over 55,000 metres of UK beaches. Now the results are in – and there's some good news, but lots more work to be done.
A big thank you to all our volunteers
An army of 6,176 volunteers joined forces to take part in the Great British Beach Clean throughout the third week of September. A total of 5064.8kg of litter was collected over the week, with volunteers recording their findings for a citizen science project to discover the most common forms of litter blighting UK shores.
What did the results show?
- The average litter recorded per 100 metres is dropping year on year across the UK. An average of 385 items were found, compared to averages of 425 in 2020, and 558 in 2019.
- Cotton bud sticks moved out of the UK’s top 10 most common rubbish items. An average of six plastic cotton bud sticks were found – the lowest in the Great British Beach Clean’s 28-year history – down from 15 in 2020.
- Numbers of single-use plastic bags on beaches have continued to drop, from a high of 13 on average in 2013, to just three in 2021.
- 75% of all litter collected being was plastic or polystyrene. An average of 112 pieces were found for every 100 metres of UK beach surveyed.
- The number of cigarette butts found in Wales more than doubled from 2020 to 2021, with this year's average an all-time high for Welsh beaches.
- Wet wipes were the second most common form of litter in Scotland, many of which contain plastic and make their way to the coast through the sewer system.
Our data is driving positive change
The drop in litter levels can at least in part be attributed to single-use plastics bans and charges put in place across the UK, supported by Marine Conservation Society data.
In April 2021, Scotland increased the carrier bag charge to 10p. It was also the first UK country to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton bud sticks in October 2019. England followed suit last year, introducing a ban on single-use plastic straws, cotton bud sticks and stirrers. The Welsh Government is yet to introduce a ban on plastic cotton bud sticks.
Lizzie Prior, Beachwatch Manager at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The ongoing downward trend we’re seeing in litter levels on UK beaches is a positive sign that the actions we’re taking at a personal, local and national level are working. But we can’t sit back and relax, now is the time for even more ambitious action.”
The ongoing downward trend we’re seeing in litter levels on UK beaches is a positive sign that the actions we’re taking are working. But we can’t sit back and relax, now is the time for even more ambitious actionLizzie Prior, Beachwatch Manager, Marine Conservation Society
Credit: Natasha Ewins
Credit: Natasha Ewins
Credit: Matt Barnes
Credit: Natasha Ewins
Single-use plastic still a big problem
Despite the overall drop in litter, plastic remains the most prevalent form of litter across all the UK's beaches.
Levels of PPE found this year were similar to 2020, when masks were made mandatory across the UK. 32% of UK beaches cleaned found PPE litter though masks ranked 59 out of 121 for most common litter items.
Wet wipes have consistently featured in the top 10 most common litter items on Scottish beaches surveyed over the last five years. This form of litter, including other sewage-related items (like sanitary towels and nappies) isn’t a pandemic-related problem, but a chronic, long-term issue that needs to be tackled now. Join our campaign to take urgent action.
In Wales, an average of 56 cigarette stubs were found per 100m in 2018, dropping to 33 in 2019 and just nine in 2020. The jump to 64 this year is certainly cause for concern. As a result, the Marine Conservation Society is working with peers at ASH Wales to call for a ban on plastic in cigarette filters, and action to reduce smoking-related litter.
What needs to be done?
With so much beach litter being made from plastic, the Marine Conservation Society is continuing to campaign for ambitious single-use plastics policies throughout the UK.
Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “UK governments’ current piecemeal approach to single-use plastics policy just won’t cut it anymore. While we’re seeing a downward trend in litter on beaches, we’re still seeing huge volumes of plastic washing up on our shores.
“A shocking 75% of all the litter we collected from UK beaches this year was made of plastic or polystyrene, so it’s clear what we need to focus our attention on. Comprehensive and ambitious single-use plastics policies which reduce the manufacture and sale of items is the quickest way of phasing out plastic from our environment.”
Comprehensive and ambitious single-use plastics policies which reduce the manufacture and sale of items is the quickest way of phasing out plastic from our environmentLaura Foster, Head of Clean Seas, Marine Conservation Society
How you can help
You don't have to wait until the Great British Beach Clean to help keep our beaches beautiful and our oceans safe for wildlife.
And if you don't live near the sea, no problem! That's where our our Source to Sea: Litter Quest comes in. Most litter that ends up on our beaches or in the sea starts its journey in villages, towns and cities miles from the coast.
All of the data you collect on the beach, on your street or in a local park helps us campaign for change, which means that your school can help turn the tide on ocean pollution.